Take a peek inside the Manhattan mothership of JPMorgan Chase's $10.8 billion tech blitz - an office that makes you wonder if you're actually at a bank
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
It's only a couple years old, but at JPMorgan Chase's office at Five Manhattan West the walls have already been defaced.
And it's not just the walls. Chairs and other surfaces have been scribbled all over as well.
At the headquarters for JPMorgan's digital ambitions, this is all by design - writable surfaces are part of the effort to foment the collaboration, serendipity, and freeform thinking that run amok at Silicon Valley's most agile workplaces.
JPMorgan developers and designers have embraced the wall-and-furniture-as-medium ethos. So much so that, after some early misunderstandings - not every white surface can be written on, it turns out - helpful signage has been added to guide spontaneous bursts of code, formulas, and workflow mapping to areas that can more readily be cleaned up, when necessary.
It's a stark contrast from other big bank offices Business Insider has visited in Manhattan, where writing is typically confined to paper or whiteboard, and the overall vibe errs on the side of rarefied stuffiness. Being at front and center of the financial universe tends to come with a drabness and solemnity that telegraphs focus and regard for the important work at hand.
Not so at Chase's tech hub, which with its bright, colorful walls, modern floor plan, and dedicated space for table tennis, billiards, and foosball, makes you question whether you're actually in a bank at all.
Nonetheless, it's ground zero for some of the most vital work underway at America's largest bank. The firm, which recently told Business Insider it has a $10.8 billion tech budget and 50,000 technologists on its payroll, courts comparisons to Amazon and has gone all in on a bet that a "Digital Everywhere" strategy will help win the future of banking.
"Digital capabilities will really differentiate players in our industry in the coming years. And in a digital world, we are always open for our customers, continuously, 24/7," CFO Marianne Lake said during the company's investor day presentation in February.
Whether it's opening and maintaining an API store, mining internal data and analytics, implementing updates to Venmo rival QuickPay with Zelle, or building Finn, an all digital bank that's being trialed in St. Louis, Five Manhattan West is home base to some of the bank's most innovative new features.
And as banks increasingly compete for the same talent as the Google, Amazon, Facebook and other tech giants, the lively tech hub and its casual ambiance also serves as a recruiting tool for young talent that may instinctively view the "Midtown Uniform" with suspicion.
"This is the mothership," Jason Alexander, head of digital platforms at Chase, told BI on a recent tour of the office space.
Take a look inside the headquarters for JPMorgan Chase's $10.8 billion digital tech blitz.
Behold: Five Manhattan West, headquarters for JPMorgan's tech ambitions. This stretch of premo Manhattan real estate is tucked conveniently within Hudson Yards — the largest private real estate development in US history — and is a short work from the High Line, the Hudson River, Penn Station, and Madison Square Garden.
JPMorgan Chase was an early, anchor tenant at Five Manhattan West, a project from real estate developer behemoth Brookfield Properties. The bank has 125,000 square feet on the 9th floor, and moved there in December 2015.
Before we look inside, let's take a step back. What kind of work goes on in here? Primarily the coding, design, maintenance, and updates for JPMorgan Chase products and features that the bank's 47 million digital customers regularly interact with — whether that's an eATM, the mobile app, or QuickPay with Zelle. Here's a quick overview.
Back to the tour. After passing through a security gate, you're greeted in the foyer by warm lights and colorful furniture. Behind that pillar ahead is the snack room, a convenient stop to stock up on essentials before starting the work day.
The snack room. It's not free, but it's all on the honor system. No surprise, there's a digital check-out kiosk.
There's also a Chase eATM, which lets you take out cash with your phone — no need for plastic. Our guide, Jason, demonstrated for us.
Nearby the snack room is the cafeteria, which was bustling when we visited near midday. The dress code is pretty casual — jeans and sneakers and even a plaid button down or two.
Refrigerators, microwaves, and beverage machines line the wall. Coffee is complimentary.
After stocking up on snacks and coffee, it's time to get to work. The tech hub has an open floor plan, but there are also ample common spaces and conference rooms. There are very few individual offices.
The office is decorated and organized with a New York theme throughout. The massive space has Manhattan "neighborhoods" where different teams sit — Murray Hill, Greenwich Village, and Midtown South, for instance.
Conference rooms are named after New York landmarks, like Hudson River and Penn Station.
They're also outfitted with large monitors to facilitate collaboration with other offices around the country.
Most of the common spaces have surfaces that are fair game to write on. Some employees had posted up in these work pods and took advantage of the graffiti friendly walls.
Another wall that fell victim to a brainstorming session. The walls of the conference room next door were covered with dozens of post-it notes.
Some of the walls are decorated with NYC scenery — like this mural of the High Line. Best not to write on these.
There are eight "scrum rooms" meant to foster collaboration. These are dedicated work spaces where members of different teams — design, product, technology, and development — come together to hammer out a project over a couple weeks.
These turquoise chairs are good for taking phone calls or taking a breather to stare off at the scenery. What was once a view of the Hudson has been mostly replaced by a view of a new Hudson Yards building.
There's a dedicated room for focus groups, so Chase can bring in customers to test out product prototypes and updates while employees observe from behind a one-way window.
Melissa Feldsher, head of Finn, gave us a look at the prototype Android app for Finn they're developing.
This is the auditorium, which is also home to foosball and billiards tables.
The staff gathers on the stadium seating when CEO Jamie Dimon or Gordon Smith, head of consumer and community banking, come to do a town hall.
And of course, no tech-inspired workplace is complete without a Ping Pong table for blowing off some steam. We happened upon a vigorous game of doubles. Thankfully, the table has its own dedicated room with glass walls to keep distractions to a minimum.
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